Roman Ballista Bolt from Maiden Castle

Contributed by Dorset County Museum

Roman ballista bolt found lodged in the spine of a iron age Briton excavated at Maiden Castle. © Dorset County Museum

The Roman invasion of Dorset included 30 battles, the conquest of two great tribes and the capture of 20 fortresses.In Iron Age Dorset, a tribe called the Durotriges sited their capital at Maiden Castle, the largest hill fort in Europe. The farmers and villagers who lived there farmed the land outside the ramparts and felt safe from attack in the massive raised settlement with its huge defensive gateways.

After the Roman invasion of AD43, commander Vespasian, with his II Augusta legion, fought his way through Dorset and began to establish Roman control over the area. In the battle for Maiden Castle, the Durotriges, armed with only slings and stones, were massacred by the far superior forces of the Roman Army.

When the mass graves were excavated at Maiden Castle during the 1930s by the renowned archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, this famous skeleton with a Roman ballista bolt lodged in his spine was found. Just to make sure the ancient Briton was dead, the Roman Invaders finished him off by smashing his skull with the point of an axe.

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  • 1 comment
  • 1. At 10:57 on 5 July 2010, Mike Bishop wrote:

    The identification of the weapon in question here is not universally accepted by archaeologists. Roman ballista bolts (of which there are many examples from Britain, including some from Hod Hill in the BM's collection) typically had pyramidal armour-piercing heads. This missile has a leaf-shaped head, commonly found on both Roman and native javelin heads. The cynical might say Wheeler used this spectacular explanation to suit his own narrative of events at Maiden Castle; the cautious would merely observe that the victim probably died in combat (with whom remaining uncertain). That does not mean it does not deserve a place here, for it is an important (almost iconic) and oft-cited landmark in the history of British archaeological interpretation.

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43 AD Roman Invasion of Dorset


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